FINN HARPS 1 ATHLONE TOWN 0
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT FINN PARK
KEITH Cowan’s brilliant 66th minute header was enough for Finn Harps to defeat Athlone Town and stay top of the First Division.
Harps continued their unbeaten start to the season thanks to the Ramelton man’s goal.
Damien McNulty directed Michael Funston’s corner back into the danger zone for Cowan. Still a good bit from goal, Cowan had work to do, but the Harps centre-back rose majestically to head into the Town End net for his second goal of the season.
Harps earned the corner – their first of the game – when Funston saw a close-range shot was cleared off the line by Philip Hand’s head after Wilfried Tagbo’s powerful surge forward opened up the possibilities.
Athlone gave Harps a scare in the 19th minute as Garbhan Coughlan drove across goal and wide with the in-rushing Philip Gorman arriving a fraction too late.
Three minutes later, Derek Doyle volleyed into Ciaran Gallagher’s arms after latching onto a nod-down from Gorman.
In between times, Raymond Foy was a little too quick out of the blocks and a lobbed effort that dropped into the Athlone net was scratched off after the Castlefin man failed to beat the offside trap.
Even by that early stage, Athlone midfielder Gavin Boyne was rather fortunate to still be on the field.
Booked for a foul on Gareth Harkin, Boyne was over the top on Raymond Foy and escaped sanction after another robust challenge on Harkin. Sensing that Boyne was unbalanced on the tightrope, Eddie Wallace, Athlone’s manager, called his man ashore.
Harps had the ball in the net a second time on the half-hour, but again the offside flag cut short the celebrations as Cowan strayed too far to nod Kevin McHugh’s floated free kick across goal for Tagbo to finish.
McHugh was making his first start of the season after his late heroics seven nights previously when he netted in the 2-2 draw at UCD. Gareth Harkin passed a late fitness test and came into the line-up with Tony McNamee and Regan Donelon making way.
Harps had a real let-off four minutes before half-time, Thomas Mulroney – who came on for Boyne – riffled over the top as he followed up when Ciaran Coll cleared a Gorman header from under his own crossbar.
Right on the stroke of the interval, Harps breathed a sigh of relief again as Mulroney, having been first to react when Thomas McMonagle cleared Marco Chindea’s corner, flashed narrowly off-target.
Eight minutes into the second half, Hand’s free kick flew dangerously wide of the target after taking a wicked deflection off the Harps wall.
Athlone welcomed Gorman, Doyle and Brian Shorthall back into their ranks after their first defeat of the season last weekend at the hands of Wexford Youths.
The game lacked a pattern, but Harps broke the deadlock when Cowan powered home to the delight of the big home crowd.
It took Ciaran Gallagher’s fingertips to keep Harps ahead when turned Marco Chindea’s teasing free-kick over the top – enough to keep Harps at the summit ahead of a trip to Wexford Youths next week that draws an end to the first quarter of the season.
FINN HARPS: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle; Josh Mailey, Michael Funston, Raymond Foy, Gareth Harkin, Ciaran Coll; Wilfried Tagbo, Kevin McHugh. Subs: Tony McNamee for Funston (79 mins), Matthew Crossan for McHugh (87 mins), Regan Donelon for Harkin (90 mins).
ATHLONE TOWN: Shane Cusack; Brian Shorthall, Stephen Dunne, Aidan Collins, Philip Hand; Marco Chindea, Robbie Gaul, Gavin Boyne, Derek Doyle; Philip Gorman, Garbhan Coughlan. Subs: Thomas Mulroney for Boyne (28 mins), Daniel Purdy for Collins (71 mins), Sam O’Connor for Chindea (84 mins).
REFEREE: Marc Lynch (Galway).